Early Childhood Education Degree
Note: This page provides overall information on early childhood education programs. For more detailed information, please see our pages for:
- Certificate in Early Childhood Education
- Associate's in Early Childhood Education
- Bachelor's in Early Childhood Education
- Master's in Early Childhood Education
- Ph.D. in Early Childhood Education
Early childhood education is a relatively new field when compared to other forms of education. Early Childhood Education refers to the school years prior to compulsory education.
As education has grown into the institution that is known today, more students are being prepared at an earlier age. Students who used to learn the basics of letters and counting in kindergarten are now being asked to do it in preschool. In most cases, preschool is needed to offer the basics for those who may not receive that basic education at home. Preschool is thought to prepare students to be lifelong learners. In addition, preschool and early education programs help students build social skills in working and playing with others.
Early Childhood Education Degree Programs
A degree in early childhood education can be gained at a certificate, associate's, bachelor's, master's, or doctoral level. Though a preschool/kindergarten certification still exists in some areas, the majority of programs are specific to preschool only. Many people prefer to go the certification route. Numerous colleges offer a certificate in early childhood education. Although the certification programs do not result in a degree, the credits can later be used towards a degree if future education is desired. In addition, a specialized field known as preschool special education is available.
Early Childhood Education Degree Online
Some students prefer earning an early childhood education degree online rather than on-campus. Online courses are generally more accommodating and give students the ability to set their own learning schedule. This is very helpful for busy students who have jobs or families. The below information can prove to be helpful in your search for the right degree program:
Since online students are not required to physically attend class on a college campus, they are able to maintain a desired amount of flexibility in their schedules. Online students have the opportunity to complete coursework whenever and wherever. This is essential for working students, since they will not be required to restructure their work schedules.
Accessibility and Convenience
Online schooling allows students to partake in a degree program, regardless of their geographic location and proximity to school. This increases the amount of opportunities available to a prospective students. Since students do not need to choose a program based on campus location, they have more degree plans to choose from.
Tuition and Costs
When considering higher education, cost is a big factor. Online degree programs seem to appeal to many students as overall costs can be less when compared to a traditional brick and mortar school. Consider the following:
- No costs associated with room and board, commuting, on-campus meals, relocating, and parking passes.
- Online students will not need to quit their job or dramatically decrease the amount of hours they work. This allows students to maintain a source of income.
- With online degree programs, students are able to continue making money without having school impede on their work schedule.
- FAFSA can still be of assistance when attending an online college or university.
Many online early childhood education degree programs are self-paced. With that said, students find it possible to complete requirements faster than they would at a traditional college. Most brick and mortar colleges and universities offer classes in the fall and spring with limited classes in the summer. On the other hand, online schools usually allow students to complete classes all throughout the year. If a condensed time-frame is something that interests you, be on the lookout for accelerated online degree programs.
Accreditation and Reputation
Before choosing an online degree program, it is imperative to know that the school you wish to enroll in is accredited and reputable. Accreditation is a process of authentication of which a college or university is evaluated. After a school or program has successfully been evaluated by a board representing the field, they can be deemed accredited. Accreditation status can usually be seen on school or college websites. You can learn more about accreditation here.
The curriculum of a strong online degree program should be similar to that of a traditional college or university. Good programs should be able to provide an organized curriculum. You may anticipate to expect the following:
- Deadlines and accountability markers to help students stay up to date and on top of their work. You may find an organized sequence of assignments, presentations, tests, quizzes, forum participation requirements, and reading reflections.
- Depending on the degree level, there should be a cumulative exam, thesis, dissertation, portfolio, or final project.
Early Childhood Education Certificate
If your goal is to work with young children, but do not wish to earn a degree, an early childhood education certificate may be right for you. Do keep in mind that the credits earned during this type of program can be transferred to a diploma, should you seek further education in the future (such as as as associate's degree or a bachelor's degree). Each program will have their own requirements for admission into an ECE certification program. However, a common requirement is the possession of a high school diploma or a GED certificate. Most programs will also require applicants to be at least 18 years old.
The length of this program will vary from school to school. However, many certification programs for Early Childhood Education can be completed in one short year. Some schools are constructed around a quarter system while others on a semester system. With both cases, the average time to complete an ECE certification program is about one year. This is about half of the time it would take to earn an Associate's Degree in Early Childhood Education.
Certification in early childhood education trains individuals who are interested in working with young children, without earning a degree. With this certification, candidates will be prepared to take on many entry-level positions in schools, child care centers, and other organizations that work with young children. Some even get a specialized certification in Montessori teaching. Many take on careers as teaching assistants, childcare aides, early intervention therapists, and in-home teachers.
Learn more about a certificate in early childhood education.
Associates in Early Childhood Education
In order to gain acceptance into an accredited Associate's Degree in Early Childhood Education program at a college, one must have graduated from high school and have been accepted into the college. Most colleges will often require letter(s) of recommendation, payment of fees, and a completed application. Some colleges may even require a background check. The NAEYC commission on early childhood maintains a list of accredited Early Childhood Associate's Degree programs.
The average length of time needed to complete an Associate's Degree in Early Childhood education is two years. Of course, this time can be altered depending on your class load. The more classes you take a quarter/semester, the quicker you can complete the program requirements. If full class loads are taken each semester, often considered 12 units, then 4-6 semesters is the likely amount of time it would take to complete the program.
After earning an Associate's Degree in Early Childhood Education, many go on to careers as child care workers, preschool teachers, associate teachers, and infant/toddler teachers. If you are interested in becoming a preschool teacher, visit our Preschool Teacher Career Page to learn more.
Learn more about an Associate's Degree in Early Childhood Education.
Bachelor's Degree in Early Childhood Education
As with most bachelor's degrees, a degree in early childhood education requires admittance into an accredited college or university, proof of a high school diploma, letter(s) of reference, and a completed application. Some colleges will also require proficiency exams and a background check prior to beginning education classes.
The average length of time needed to complete a Bachelor's is around 3 to 5 years. If full class loads are taken each semester with summers off then four years is the likely amount of time.
Earning a Bachelor's Degree in Early Childhood Education can lead to an entertaining and long term career within the school system, as a preschool teacher, day care provider, elementary school teacher (with certification), or even as a private consultant. There are many options when an education degree is earned. Visit our Preschool Teacher Career Page to learn more about becoming a preschool teacher.
Learn more about an Bachelor's Degree in Early Childhood Education.
Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education
A Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education will typically require proof of graduation with a 3.0 GPA from an accredited undergraduate program in a related area. The following are also common requirements:
- GRE scores
- Letters of recommendation (typically 2-3)
- Valid teaching license (some programs)
- Complete application with fee
- Personal statement or essay
The average length to complete a master's program when attending full time is 2 to 3 years or 4 to 6 semesters. Some colleges offer an accelerated program to those already teaching.
A master's degree will typically cost around $500 per credit hour, though this will vary greatly for online, face to face, and different college programs.
Those with a Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education can become preschool directors, Head Start directors, teachers or directors for private child care, or in many cases - birth to three coordinators. Many people chose to partner this degree with teacher certification in order to become an elementary school teacher.
Learn more about an Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education.
PhD in Early Childhood Education
A Doctorate in Early Childhood Education typically require proof of a master's degree with experience in the field, reference letters, and a statement of purpose.
If entering a program with a master's degree, the average length of time for completion is 3 to 5 years. Entering without a master's degree typically adds at least 1 year to any program.
A Doctoral degree is highly respected, which means that any program you enter should be accredited. The purpose of gaining a doctorate is to provide proof of your knowledge and abilities, if attending an unaccredited program this may be impossible.
A Doctorate in Early Childhood Education can lead to several career paths. A doctorate allows the holder to be an early childhood education specialist, a professor, a preschool director, or a day care director.
Average tuition for a Doctorate in Early Childhood Education is approximately $500 to 1,000 per credit hour. This cost varies greatly from school to school.
Learn more about a PhD in Early Childhood Education.
What Can I Do With An Early Childhood Education Degree?
Earning a degree in Early Childhood Education can open the door to a range of different career options. Below are just a few of the opportunities available to those in the field of early childhood education:
Early Childhood Education Specialist
An early childhood education specialist is a preschool teacher for ages birth to kindergarten. This person will be responsible for implementing a given curricula, while assessing students to ensure developmental milestones are being met. Starting salary is approximately $30,000 with room for growth with experience.
Preschool and Childcare Center Director
A center director is often in charge of hiring, choosing and maintaining a curriculum, while forming partnerships with students, families, educators, and community members. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has some more good information on Preschool and Childcare Center Directors.
Grant Writer for Foundation
An early childhood specialist with a master's degree could hold a job as a grant writer. Though the number of jobs is limited, it is growing at a slight rate. This job would require writing grants for organizations needing funding or additional monies.
Early Childhood Special Education Teacher
The special education teacher will work with young children with exceptional needs using a specialized curricula. Job growth in this area is steady as more children are attending preschool. Special education is a challenging and rewarding field. Jobs tend to be plentiful.
Early Childhood Education Degree Scholarships
Schooling to earn an early childhood education degree can be rather costly. It's a good idea to be aware of the different scholarships and grants available to those who study early childhood education.
The following scholarships may help early childhood education students pay for school:
The Applegate-Jackson-Parks Future Teacher Scholarship
The Applegate-Jackson-Parks Future Teacher Scholarship is a $1,000 scholarship and it is awarded every year. To apply, you must be a graduate or undergraduate student in an accredited college or university (United States). Applicants will also need to complete the application form in its entirety, submit a copy of your most recent transcript, and submit a 500 word essay on the "Right to Work" principle as it applies to educators.
Teacher Education Scholarships
If you are interested in becoming a Montessori teacher with Montessori training, the Teacher Education Scholarships for aspiring Montessori teachers could be right for you. Entrants are considered on the basis of a compelling personal statement, financial need, and 3 letters of recommendation. Applicants must also provide official verification of acceptance into an AMS-affiliated program.
Bright Futures National Scholarships
The Bright Futures Scholarship program supports students in the field of early childhood education by offering to provide financial assistance to those who wish to become early childhood teachers. Applicants should be enrolled in an associate's, bachelor's, or master's program at an accredited university or college in the US. You may read more on the eligibility requirements by visiting the official scholarship page.
There are many more scholarships available, including Teacher.org's annual scholarship. Visit our Scholarships and Grants page for a more detailed list.
Best Colleges for Early Childhood Education
We are happy to release our Teacher.org's Best Colleges for Early Childhood Education rankings. This list was compiled by scoring several areas including, relative size of the program, graduation rates, default rates, tuition affordability, and online education options availability. More information about each college listed is available by clicking on the web address provided. Over 425 colleges were analyzed and the top 20 were included in our Best Colleges Ranking.
For more information on education degree rankings, see our methodology page: https://www.teacher.org/college-ranking-methodology/.